“If I tell you I can, I will. This is how trust develops.”
It is with these words that Mariny Vázquez directs the series of community assemblies “El Barrio Habla” (The Neighborhood Speaks) in 14 Naguabo communities on the east coast of Puerto Rico.
After being invited by community leader Tayna Fernández, we at Atma Connect, had the honor of witnessing communities gather together to foster citizen participation. Indeed community development is one of Atma’s main missions.
These conversations have already been carried out in three communities in Naguabo: Peña Pobre, Fernández’ community; Estancias de Húcares; and Tropical Beach, and will soon spread to the rest of the communities in the municipality.
With the purpose of gaining perspective on the needs and interests of each community, Vázquez developed three maps of affinity with community participants. Each map addressed:
the community’s biggest concerns
identifying the tangible things residents would like to accomplish, and
how one, as a resident, can actively participate in government
Despite their geographical closeness, the three communities each have a unique character, particular needs and different dreams.
For Peña Pobre residents, the most alarming concern is its infrastructure. Schools, recreational areas and roads are in a state of neglect and deterioration. The school, above all, represents a place where children can go to educate themselves, make friends and cultivate their culture. Sometimes, the need is not limited to having a physical school structure; there is also a need for a robust educational program that can offer opportunities to children. Recreational areas are lost, covered by weeds or debris, and roads encourage residents to travel to other municipalities to avoid possible damage to their vehicles.
Given these needs, the community of Peña Pobre reached a consensus on three projects that they will develop as a priority:
attend to the school and provide tutoring services for children,
have a space to attend to the health of residents, and
The group selected a slogan – #chooseyourhoyo (choose your pothole!) – to raise awareness and possibly make their road improvement project go viral.
Meanwhile, residents of Estancias de Húcares presented their concerns in the areas of security and the number of abandoned houses that have become public nuisances, attracting, among other things, wild animals. Despite being a marginalized community almost since its inception, the residents of Estancias have come together in recent years and have championed the betterment of their community, even setting up a house as a community center. As they say, “Before they didn’t see us, they didn’t listen to us and they didn’t feel us. Now we are the ones that are seen, the ones that are heard, and the ones that are felt.”
The first community project, as part of El Barrio Habla, is to rescue its recreational areas so they can be enjoyed and used for community projects. Community members plan to carry out sports clinics and art and culture workshops focused especially for their children.
While Atma Connect originally launched as a mobile app for people to share information and build resilience in disaster-prone areas, the impact is far greater now. Atma and its Indonesian counterpart, Sakawarga, are enabling many more people to collaborate, including coffee farmers coping with climate change.
Farmers face many challenges, from weather to crop prices to emboldened rodents.
In the South Sumatra region in Indonesia, a new website is enabling farmers to share hard-won information with one another on how to grow crops more sustainably and build sustainable livelihoods for their families.
The site: Penatani.ID meaning Indonesian Farmers. The slogan: Growth and Traditions.
Penatani was launched by the Jakarta-based Penabulu Foundation and Ford Foundation to encourage sustainability. Sakawarga Foundation, Atma’s tech team in Indonesia, built the site in two months, after extensive human-centered design based on user testing and world-renowned methods that Atma integrated through its partnership with IDEO.
The result: a robust platform for farmers to ask questions and get answers, have a marketplace for selling produce and farm tools and, not least, share valuable information with one another on a wide scale.
The driving force is not only citizen journalism, in which local people share news and insights with one another; Penatani is also focused on cultivating sustainable natural resource management, according to Meiardhy Mujianto, the Penabulu Foundation’s model area partnership development coordinator.
So far, the most popular section on Penatani is the information sharing section. Here’s just one of the tips that newer farmers can learn from experienced farmers from South Sumatra on the southeast of the island of Sumatra where coffee beans, rice and other crops are grown. A blog post, with more than 300 views so far, notes:
“Farming has been the main livelihood of the Besemah community since long ago; there are many customs and traditions that have become a legacy until now. One of them is the tradition of pinching mangosteen leaves to repel rodents in the fields.”
That type of specific and useful information exchange is a strategic part of Atma and Sakawarga’s work. “We believe in enabling climate action, building community, and growing household income. This type of people-to-people communication platform builds the capacity of communities on the frontlines of fighting climate change,” says Aisyah Gunung, Sakawarga technical lead and Atma Connect’s head of product.
The main goals for the site that the team built were to enable farmers to:
Conserve natural resources,
Manage forestry resources, and
Share effective practices to build sustainable livelihoods.
“I’m proud that this platform can provide solutions that leverage the existing nature and potential in a rural area of Sumatra, a region whose contribution is massive to our national coffee production,” says Alfan Kasdar, Sakawarga Co-Director and Atma Connect’s Indonesia field director. “It was great to see how the farmers and citizens were very excited to see the platform and instantly understood how it could help them to communicate with each other, share knowledge, and promote their produce and region.”
As for those pesky rodents? The popular post, written by a farmer nicknamed Cantika, explains the tradition of pinching mangosteen leaves before fruiting and how to do it with bamboo sticks. Like many users on Penatani, Cantika is concerned about growing local produce while preserving the environment for further sustainability. Her post noted:
“All farmers in Sukaraja village follow this tradition to repel rats without poisoning or trapping rats, believe it or not,” said Agustami, one of the farmers in the village of Sukaraja.
Cantika’s article went on to explain the many advantages of the mangosteen custom:
“This method is certainly very good for the preservation of the natural environment and pro-environmental sustainability. Why is that? Because by not poisoning rats, we can maintain the existence of the ricefield food chain population. ….
We learn from history that many animals or plants that we think are easy to find anywhere are now very rare and even extinct. Likewise, we judge rats, which is a part of the food chain that snakes eat. If the rat is not there, the snake will lack food and prey on livestock. In addition, by not poisoning rats, we will keep the river flow clean from chemicals.”
To ensure a successful site launch, the Sakawarga team worked closely with Penabalu and villagers in advance. There was more than a month of in-depth writing and citizen journalism training so that farmers would know how to best use the platform.
A crucial step was identifying literacy ambassadors for each village in a “train the trainers” mode, to be able to encourage others to use the website effectively to share insights and ideas. One of the ambassadors is a farmer named Silvia. She herself is gleaning useful information through Penatani. As she says, “Besides being able to share stories about the potential of the village, on the Penatani.id platform I also recently learned that friends in the Mulak Ulu area have started planting coffee companion plants, such as pepper plants.”
While headlines from around the globe can seem overwhelming, a certain set of people are too busy to despair — people who specialize in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate adaptation are racing to put innovative ideas into practice to use nature to reduce risk.
When the Atma Connect tech team landed a contract to build a robust learning platform to serve this audience, the team leapt into action. Here’s a look at how the tech team quickly created a platform for The Nature Conservancy to support DRR professionals and humanitarian organizations in how to use nature to reduce coastal disaster risk in Indonesia, Micronesia and the Caribbean.
The focus of the site is nature-based solutions, which, the homepage explains “can protect life and property from disaster risk through the protection, sustainable management and restoration of both natural and modified ecosystems.” The website is filled with resources in three languages: Bahasa, Spanish and English.
Among the resources:
The Blue Guide to Coastal Resilience, the basis for the website, is also available as a downloadable, 100-page compendium of scientific guidance, dozens of video case studies and a larger suite of tools on using nature-based solutions to reduce climate risks.
Nature-based solutions to reduce disaster risk in six categories: Reefs, Mangroves, Seagrass, Marshland and Swamps, Dunes, and Shelterbelts.
A library searchable by material to read, watch, or apply as in put into practice; as well as by ways to connect with eco-initiatives, media and networks.
The information is part of the Nature Protects People Project, an initiative funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID/BHA) and implemented by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Indonesia with the nonprofit YKAN (Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara), Micronesia and the Caribbean.
“The original plan was to offer in-depth information on nature-based solutions to practitioners in person, but when the pandemic hit, we quickly made the decision to make the extensive information and case studies available online,” says Dr. Moushumi Chaudhury, TNC’s Community Resilience Program Director.
The Atma tech team, led by product manager Aisyah Gunung, used human-centered design to understand the core issues, such as figuring out the best way to take information-laden PDFs and transform them into a truly interactive and useful website.
“I really enjoy implementing a human-centered design process into a real platform, not to mention one instantly utilized by the TNC team,” says Aisyah. The first step, as with any software project, was to create an initial design for a minimum viable product or MVP. Then came implementation, first in English, then in Indonesian along with added features, then in Spanish.
While the NatureProtects content is for a specialized audience, it’s also useful for community members, government staff, and staff and volunteers of NGOs or National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies working in coastal communities.
The issue of climate change is, after all, being felt worldwide. More than 600 million people worldwide live in vulnerable low-lying coastal areas. Atma will share highlights from NatureProtects on the Atma Go mobile app and platform, used by neighbors to help neighbors in Indonesia and Puerto Rico.
In honor of Atma Connect’s 5-year anniversary, we are highlighting our inspiring community including employees, supporters and board members.
Meet Ardy Satria, self-described tech guy. A technology strategy advisor and consultant as well as a software architect, he keeps the AtmaGo platform in Indonesia and Puerto Rico running and takes the lead on delivering technology solutions and features to meet strategic objectives.
Q: What Atma accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: I’m proud of how Atma has taken a leadership role during the pandemic by enabling neighbors to share trusted information about COVID-19 and the vaccine and reaching millions of people with education and tools through a microsite we built called Covid19.atmago.com.
Q: How do you describe Atma’s vision?
A: We want to become the go-to application for people to share information, connect good people and support their communities in the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors.
Q: What are your goals with Atma Connect?
A: We would like to reach and help more people and build more community by continuing to build the technology platform and product.
Q: What inspires you to be a leader within the Atma community?
A: I started a small movement in West Java called Pelukan Rakyat during the pandemic. It means “People’s Hug.” Volunteers join an action team to cook, package and deliver food for free to people who need it. Many people are living day to day, and we want to help. This to show that we are grateful to God. We believe in caring and giving back to people and the community. And motivating people to remember that you don’t need to be rich to take some action to help others.
Pelukan Rakyat uses AtmaGo to organize action teams. We use the new feature known as Ruang Komunitas AtmaGo (Community Room) to share updates, track our impact and reach new members to serve more people.
Q: What has been your favorite story from working with Atma Connect?
A: It is so inspiring to hear about people who have been helped through the power of AtmaGo. I was touched by a video of a woman who survived a tsunami, Tsunami Palu in 2018, and found shelter, thanks to AtmaGo.
In honor of Atma Connect’s 5-year anniversary, we are highlighting our inspiring community including employees, supporters and board members.
Meet Lisa Diaz Nash, seasoned business and nonprofit leader. She has advised Atma Connect since 2016. Currently serving as board chair, Lisa envisions a world where neighbors help neighbors build resilient, empowered communities. We asked her 5 questions, plus a bonus question.
Q: What Atma accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: I am most proud that Atma does not just “talk the talk” but also “walks the walk.” Our progress is measured in lives saved, livelihoods improved and people empowered. The most important thing that Atma has done is to give people the tools, platform and training they need to repair their communities, prevent preventable disasters and realize opportunities to create better lives for everyone.
Q: Why do you believe in Atma’s vision?
A: I believe in Atma’s vision because it is inspired by the people it serves. What we do, how we enhance our products, where we expand…all this is driven by what our customers – our users, our community members – say they need to solve their problems and improve their lives. Atma’s vision stays and grows because we listen to the needs of our users and do our best to meet and exceed those needs.
Q: What inspires you about Atma’s approach?
A: Everyone talks about changing the world and putting power in the hands of people to improve their lives. Atma unlocks the power that already is in people by helping them connect and create the lives and communities they want.
Q: What are your goals for Atma Connect? What would you like to accomplish in the next year?
A: We have proven the “concept” of Atma, i.e. the power of our platform to unlock the power of individuals, no matter who they are, to improve their community by working together toward common goals of good. Now we need to “supercharge” that capability, across Indonesia and Puerto Rico and across the globe. Local communities anywhere want to find the power to connect, educate each other and join together for change. I want Atma to enable more communities in more countries to solve basic problems and take charge of their futures.
Q: Why are you excited to be an Atma leader?
A: I have seen Atma grow from an idea to a small pilot to a platform that people use to create the change they want to see in their worlds. The reason Atma has grown to 7 million people is because it unlocks the power already in people. Atma connects people behind a common goal and helps them accomplish it. That isn’t “Power to the people.” That is “Power OF the people.”
Q: What has been your favorite moment from working with Atma Connect?
A: I am humbled by the stories of people, time and again, who have used AtmaGo to connect with their communities to overcome disasters, rebuild their lives and create opportunities they didn’t have before. Being witness to the tragedy, hope, determination and joy that people find by working together, supported by Atma, is to see the human condition in total. I am very optimistic about what we can do, as long as we do it together.
Atma Connect, the global tech nonprofit helping communities improve their resilience to disasters and respond to ongoing challenges, is all about enabling change from the ground up. In line with that vision, the organization, with help from partners and community leaders, added a new feature on the AtmaGo app that is already winning praise from users.
The new feature: a community room where one can “Turn discussions into actions.” That’s the tagline of the community room in Indonesia, Ruang Komunitas AtmaGo (RKA) (komunitas.atmago.com). The community room name in Puerto Rico: Espacio Comunitario Atmago (ECA) (comunidad.atmago.com).
“What we have heard from community leaders is that they need a way to document their impact, inspire and learn from others, and get more support from their own community, the government, and the resources to grow their work,” saidMeena Palaniappan, Atma Connect’s CEO, in launching the new feature and describing the idea of helping community leaders become agents of change.
AtmaConnect encourages communities using AtmaGo to try out the community rooms to form and to join a community of their interest. The hope is that people and communities will be better connected to each other, especially during the pandemic where the ability to meet in person has been reduced significantly.
In the new community rooms, people can form a community, join a community, conduct discussions within a community and share activities whether they are coming up or have already occurred (activities are also directly connected as posts in the AtmaGo main site). People can also develop their community portfolio, recruiting volunteers if needed, setting measurable targets and documenting past actions. The community rooms give local changemakers a way to grow their impact and their effectiveness.
Launched on June 17, 2021, via an international Zoom meeting linking more than 90 users, some 50 communities have launched so far in RKA, while ECA has just begun. The community rooms will be developed further to enable communities to monitor their progress and actions through data and analytics, to measure achievement against target, and to interconnect between the two countries, narrowing the distance from 18,940 kilometers to a few bits and bytes.
“At Atma Connect, we are driven by and inspired by community leaders,” said Palaniappan. “During the pandemic, we saw the incredible work of community leaders in action – from sharing and growing food to organizing resources to help the less fortunate to supporting local businesses.”
The new feature evolved from ideas and brainstorming that began about a year ago on ways to enable community leaders to truly act as agents of change. To build on the idea and make it concrete, there were countless brainstorming sessions, focus group discussions and surveys with community leaders. Atma’s Development, Growth and Field Teams worked hand in hand. The Community Room Platform was first tested in Indonesia in March 2021. Two months later a similar platform was developed for Puerto Rico.
Both platforms are part of www.atmago.com and pr.atmago.com, respectively. They allow any resident to form or to join online, a community that might be of interest. The features allow a community to build its portfolio, recruit volunteers, and document its activities. “In the near future we will add a function to enable a community to monitor and to measure the impact it is having supported by data and analytics,” Aisyah Gunung, Atma Connect’s Product Manager, explained at the launch event.
“Selamat Pagi, Good Evening and Buenas Noches” — that was how the launch event started with participants joining from Indonesia, Puerto Rico and the United States. Participants included community leaders, donor organizations and friends of Atma Connect.
The event was meant to initiate dialogue and interaction between communities in the two countries. To help communities connect across languages, the event was conducted in three languages – Bahasa Indonesia, English and Spanish.
Although the community leaders were 11,000 miles away and spoke different languages, those facts did not stop participants from interacting. Among the many questions:
“How does your community work together with the government to handle the COVID-19 situation?”
“How do you fund your social activities?”
“Where can we find more information about your community?”
Agustian, the founder of Komunitas Sekolah Raya, a group of volunteers focused on education, presented his community and their experiences in using RKA. “Indonesians have a saying, ‘Sour on the mountains and salts in the oceans, but they will eventually meet in a cooking pot.’ We want RKA to be our cooking pot,” he said. His community relies on volunteers and, due to the pandemic, their network was quite dormant. He’s excited that RKA could be an excellent tool to recruit more volunteers to help villages be more independent and self-sufficient.
Participants at the launch say they are highly motivated to use the community rooms and recommend them to their networks. A few of the many statements of enthusiasm included these: “This is an interesting innovation that we have been dreaming of, because it offers a broad network to other communities,” “I find this platform useful because it will help us to document our works properly, and it can become a tool for peer learning among communities,” and, not least, “Please have more online interaction events like this in the future!”